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Health department joins cancer awareness alert

Published: Monday, Jan. 20, 2014 2:33 p.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, Jan. 20, 2014 2:35 p.m. CDT

PRINCETON — The Bureau/Putnam County Health Department has joined a national effort to promote awareness of January as Cervical Health Awareness Month.

The National Cervical Cancer Coalition and the American Sexual Health Association are calling for expanded access to the life-saving screening tests and vaccines which can often prevent cervical cancer.

On Friday, Bureau/Putnam County Health Department administrator Diana Rawlings said the local health department does have the Illinois Breast and Cervical Cancer Program as part of its services. Two in-person counselors are on staff at the health department to help people procure healthcare coverage, she said.

The Illinois Breast and Cervical Cancer Program provides free mammograms, breast exams, pelvic exams and Pap tests for uninsured women. The local health department partners with many local medical providers to offer this program for uninsured women in Bureau and Putnam counties, Rawlings said.

Each year, the local health department is allocated by the state to handle a caseload of 115 persons through the program, Rawlings said.

As far as the symptoms of cervical cancer, Bureau/Putnam County Health Department Educator Laurie Geuther said there are no early symptoms for cervical cancer which is why getting a Pap test regularly is so important. Late cervical cancer may cause abnormal vaginal bleeding. Just how treatable is cervical cancer depends on when the cancer is detected and how far it has spread, Geuther said.

The Centers for Disease Control recommends annual cervical cancer screening via Pap test beginning at age 21, Geuther said. An HPV vaccination is available to protect females against the types of HPV that cause most cervical, vaginal and vulvar cancers. The HPV vaccine is recommended for 11- and 12-year-old girls, and for females 13 through 26 years of age who did not get any or all of the shots when they were younger, she said.

Women who are vaccinated against HPV still need to have regular Pap tests to screen for cervical cancer, Geuther said.

The thing to remember is that early prevention and detection save lives, Rawlings said.

According to the National Cervical Cancer Coalition, about 79 million Americans currently have human papillomavirus (HPV), which is a major cause of cervical cancer. Each year in the United States, about 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and more than 4,000 die as a result. In both the United states and the world, the disease impacts disproportionately poor women.

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